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We just heard from a Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) member about their recent follow-up visit to !Khwa ttu: San culture and education centre, 70 km north of Cape Town. The San (sometimes called ‘Bushmen’) are the indigenous people of Southern Africa, and, like indigenous peoples in many countries, they have suffered dispossession and loss of much of their heritage. This centre is a space which combines restoration and display of heritage, tourism, and training for the San in "literacy, entrepreneurship, tourism, health issues, community development, craft production/marketing and gender awareness". A brilliant idea, and one that needs on-going support (equivalent cultural centres in Australia have had severe problems with trying to be self-sustaining).

FEL members got to visit it in 2005, before it opened. I was very impressed then. And I gather now that it's open, they are getting many school classes coming for tours. The other thing that impressed me was that the Centre was providing indigenous language classes for the children of the San who were training there. Now, the children are having mainstream education in Darling, about 20 minutes away by bus, but they attend classes in their own languages and culture in a Saturday school at !Khwa ttu.


I may add a quick note on the only San languages spoken in South Africa in today. (Disregarding the N!u language with only 25-40 identified semi-speakers not living together.)

Just a month or so ago I visited the San community in Schmidtsdrift (spelling?) near Kimberley in South Africa. Some 4 000 !Kung speakers along with 1 100 Khwe speakers live there, recently (= past 10 years) settled there from Namibia and Angola. There reason for settling them in South Africa, where these groups have not lived in historical times, was that many had forcibly been recruited during the civil war(s), and suffered risk of retaliation as they had been helping, e.g. acting as trackers, for the side(s) that did not acquire ruling.

The community is funded by the government (somehow) and there is free housing, a school and an indigenously run radio station with broadcast in !Kung and Khwe. Virtually all are speakers of !Kung or Khwe and there are some monolinguals. There are many trilinguals in !Kung/Khwe plus Afrikaans and English. Children learn !Kung/Khwe as their first language and learn Afrikaans when they start school. I was told that the Khwe children did not generally learn !Kung or vice versa and children in school of the opposite groups would communicate in Afrikaans. (I suppose that, before school, the children had no problems to communicate even without a common language, like I have observed that young children with no common language do when they play around department parties!). !Kung (a Juu language) and Khwe (a Khoe-Kwadi language) are not demonstrably related.

Even though children grow up with their indigenous tongue as their first language, and the groups are not tiny, even such a poor sociolinguist like myself will bet that the language just got on the road to extinction. The speakers will be integrated into a society which does not care for !Kung or Khwe once outside the village. (Only a minority, if any, of the linguistics staff at UNISA would know that Khwe and !Kung are different languages, let alone the wider society.) Speakers will be bilingual but the fact that languages are used in different domains will prevail. The school board would like to teach in !Kung and Khwe respectively but there are no teaching materials or trained teachers who speak !Kung/Khwe. There is no change in sight on this account in the near future.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.


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